Hospital Dr News

Minister commits to testing docs language skills

The government is finally moving to ensure that overseas doctors have the language skills required to work in the NHS.

Addressing the Conservative Party conference, health minister Andrew Lansley said he would change the law to ensure overseas doctors have “the language skills needed to practice here”.

Doctors’ representatives have been campaigning for years – particularly since German locum GP Dr Daniel Ubani killed a patient with a painkiller overdose on his first shift in England – for the GMC to test the language skills of overseas doctors.

There was uncertainty over whether the Medical Act 1983 had ‘gold plated’ the EC’s mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive, thus preventing the language testing of doctors entering the UK. It’s believed amending the Act would enable some degree of testing.

Lansley told delegates: “I am determined that doctors who come from overseas to work here must not only have the right qualifications, but also the language skills needed to practice here.

“This is not about discriminating; we’ve always appreciated how much overseas doctors and nurses give to our NHS. It is simply about our absolute commitment to put patients’ safety first. So I can tell conference today that we will change the law to ensure that any doctor from overseas who doesn’t have a proper level of English will not be able to treat patients in our NHS.”

Responding to the announcement, Dr Hamish Meldrum, chair of BMA council, said: “The BMA has, for many years, been calling on the government to change the Medical Act so that the General Medical Council has the power to properly regulate doctors from the European Economic Area that come to work in the UK. Doctors trained outside the UK make an important contribution to the NHS but it is essential that they are able to communicate effectively with their patients and colleagues.

“Today’s announcement seeks to ensure all doctors working in the NHS are fit to practise; we would hope that this will extend to doctors working in the UK but are not employed by the NHS. It will also introduce mandatory checking of English language skills for EEA doctors before they can be employed by the NHS in England. These changes are a positive way forward and should help close the loophole that has allowed doctors with inadequate English language skills to work in this country.”

Dean Royles, director of the NHS Employers organisation, said: “It will always be down to the employers to carry out pre-employment checks and we need to ensure that any new arrangements are pragmatic and workable.

“Most employers are assessing language and communication skills already through the assessment and interview process. Guidance and clarity from the government in this area is a welcome help to all employers who will continue to improve the checking process. While the focus is on doctors, employers also recognise that language skills must be adequate across all front-line workers, including nurses and specialists, and are working hard to ensure that this is the case.”

Read a recent blog on the issue.

Bookmark and Share

Post a Comment

Enter this security code

Submit Comment for Moderation